Nine months into President Obama's term, three of his top IT strategists Wednesday provided a status report on the president's open government initiatives. But the underlying tone at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington where they spoke is that most of the work still lies ahead.
Speaking at the Gov 2.0 Summit, co-sponsored by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said that the Open Government Directive requested by Obama in January will be published in three or four weeks. Chopra said the directive will require that federal agencies take a "structured approach" to releasing government data and that they engage the public in crafting their open government plans.
Beth Noveck, deputy CTO in the office of the president, provided a detailed accounting of the Obama administration's push to create more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government agencies, departments, and services.
Deliverables noted by Noveck include the appointment of the first federal CTO (Chopra) and federal CIO (Vivek Kundra); Obama's "Transparency and Open Government" memo, which called for the soon-to-be-delivered Open Government Directive; "pro-transparency" guidelines issued by the Department of Justice that apply to Freedom of Information Act requests; open policy-making forums; and the White House's decision to release visitor logs.
Noveck pointed to Recovery.gov, Data.gov, and Broadband.gov as representative of the feds' push to make government data more widely available in user-accessible formats.
Macon Phillips, the White House's director of new media, described his job as having three primary objectives: amplifying Obama's "message" to the American public; contributing to the administration's transparency mandate; and creating opportunities for the public to participate in government.
Phillips was asked whether there's a role for new media in Obama's healthcare reform proposals, the latest version of which the president presented in a speech to Congress Wednesday. "Absolutely," said Phillips. "We're making a case for the president's plan. It's full of stories, argument, debate, and deliberation, and it should be."
One of the biggest challenges facing the Obama administration in its use of social media tools is its ability to absorb the public feedback generated by that interactivity. "It's the input, output problem," Phillips said. "We're constantly impressed by, and challenged by, the amount of information we're getting."
In addition to her progress report, Noveck acknowledged there's more to be done in the push for open government, mentioning the need to open the government grants process as one example.
Other presenters at the Gov 2.0 Summit, and attendees in hallway conversations, made that point that federal agencies are still early in their "government 2.0" efforts. Obama's Open Government Directive has yet to be delivered; some Department of Defense and other federal agencies restrict or ban use of social media tools; and much government data still sits in database silos behind firewalls.
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